1,000 words: The cellist


Though we’ve got a few days to go yet, we hereby submit this photo as the cool moment of the week recipient.

The picture, from White House photographer Pete Souza, carried a too-short caption:

President Barack Obama listens to cellist Khari Joyner, a 21-year-old Make-A-Wish recipient from Atlanta, Ga., in the Oval Office, Jan. 29

The photo has been racing around the Internet, with little additional information on what must have been an inspiring moment. Sometimes, a picture isn’t worth 1,000 words. Think there’s a deeper, more compelling story here? I do.

A little sleuthing on Facebook — on an entry about how rude the president is being, of course (it is Facebook after all) — provides a little more detail of the moment:

His name is Khari Joyner and he’s a wonderful cellist. He’s a student at The Juilliard School & graduates this year (2013). He is also Sphinx Competition winner. His two brothers are also musicians, both are violinists and both went to Oberlin. His Brothers are both standing behind him in this photo, while his parents are seated, watching Khari’s performance. Congratulations Khari, on this prestigious performance opportunity…looking forward to our performance in a few weeks.

We also find that in 2009, he fought lymphoma. And in return for the care he received, he plays in hospitals:

I performed in two locations in the hospital. I gave the first performance in the waiting room for cancer and blood disorders. Although this was the first time I had done this kind of performance, I could tell everyone who was there (of all ages literally!) appreciated it and enjoyed it.

I wanted to give something special to people who might not have been feeling well or who may have been stressed/upset because of medical concerns.

I performed many pieces and shared a little bit about my experience in the hospital. I will never forget the way people kept stopping by to listen!

I initially had somewhat of a smaller audience. But by the time I was almost finished, I had close to three times the amount of people from the start! Doctors and nurses opened up their office doors to hear me and were all very moved. Word spread quickly that I was outside in the waiting room performing!

The next set of performances I did that day was even more moving. I was asked by one of the nurses who had treated me if I could play for kids and families in the blood infusion rooms.

As I walked back into the rooms, I saw people (some of whom were my age) who were being given blood transfusions and hooked up to IV monitors. Some of these patients had cancers while others had been treated for blood disorders, such as sickle-cell anemia.

Once I started performing for them, I could see that they became extremely moved. Some were even brought to tears.

After performing, it made me stop and think about how I really had an impact on these patients. Their parents came up to me afterwards and expressed just how grateful and glad they were to see me doing what I had done and what I love doing!

An experience like this one was one of my favorite because it really proved the old adage: Music really heals and has the power to cure! I will never forget it and would love to do another in the future.

He also composed a piece on African American fathers and their gay sons.

NPR mentioned him last month as part of a story on the opportunities — or lack of them in many cases — for African American musicians.

Last month, the U.S. embassy in The Hague featured Mr. Joyner in concerts aimed at minority students in Amsterdam.

Despite Mr. Souza’s caption, I’ve been unable to find any other connection between Mr. Joyner and Make-A-Wish, and he does not appear on the websites of either the Atlanta or national Make-A-Wish foundation websites.

Let’s hope that means he’s in good health.

(Update 4:39 pm 1/31) Josh deBerge, a spokesman for Make-A-Wish, reports, “I can confirm that Khari is indeed a wish recipient and playing the cello was part of his wish.”

I’m not entirely sure that’s good news.

  • thanks for doing the detective work!

  • Sarah

    If music has the power to cure, then let’s get rid of the sickness that is infecting the corporatized boards of music organizations.

  • Khari Joyner

    Thank you so much Mr. Collins for featuring me in this article! 🙂 I was so humbled and honored to perform for the President, and the other videos that you have posted on the page were also fun to collaborate with (On Program, the work I did in Amsterdam on behalf of the Hague and Sphinx Organization!, and my affiliation with Azira G. Hilla and the ASO Talent Development Program) I am also very thankful and grateful that I am in good health now and doing very well! Thank you again,


    P.S. Also, one of my brothers is an Oberlin Graduate, the other is a graduate of Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University.